Emily Pilloton: On a Brand New (Design) Tack

It's exhilarating to discover someone whose work is making a real difference. This could be a giant like Muhammad Yunus, your fourth grade teacher, or someone like Emily Pilloton. Her work with Project H Design, the charitable organization she founded, "supports, inspires, and delivers product design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health, and Happiness."

The initiatives and the sustainable ideals behind all aspects of this grassroots work are so admirable and will undoubtedly become a precedent for educational design -- fingers crossed that someone is watching and paying attention.

As the project gains steam, Pilloton and cohorts reap the rewards of higher-exposure which amplifies the project's core tenets:

1) There is no design without (critical) action.We are not a social club, nor do we host green drinks events. We do projects that exist in the real world, that have partners, impact, and results. We work as a team, rather than for individual glory.

2) We design WITH, not FOR.We work with partners, not for clients. We bring end users to the table from day one, making them fellow designers. We co-create with unexpected partners, and listen/learn first about social issues we may not fully understand.

3) We document, share, and measure.We record all work as a means to measure qualitatively and quantitatively, and ask for feedback as a means to constantly improve. Our designs are never "done." We share practices between project teams so that we never have to start from zero.

4) We start locally, and scale globally.Our projects are local responses to global problems, and are designed to serve as models for broader application. We look first to our own back yards, with the ultimate goal of scaling and improving products as systems that can work anywhere.

5) We design systems, not stuff.We create solutions and systems that are not driven by material or consumption. We "take the product out of product design" to question the traditional models, and design solutions that enable something greater than the object itself: enterprises, impact, etc.

6) We build.We get dirty. We tweak and prototype and test and bend. We know how to work in a woodshop, and how to weld, mill, and machine. We believe that knowing how things are built makes you a better designer, and that understanding the design process makes you a better builder. We make sure our ideas come to life.

This approach shouldn't be limited to design. Sensitivity to place and culture is something that's conspicuously lacking throughout our society, from the strip mall sprawl beyond the Beltway to the one-size-fits-all standardized tests we force upon anyone and everyone. Change is incremental, and Pilloton, with her team of innovators, is assuredly a leader to watch--and hopefully emulate--in the future.

Project H Design - the main thing on her plate
Inhabitat - a vast design site / Pilloton is managing editor
Dwell - an insightful interview by Alissa Walker
TED - read her profile / find other inspiring talks!


  1. I wonder whether she is a Steiner girl. It all sounds familiar!

  2. For sure! The Waldorf approach seems like the way the world is going in most fields. It just makes the most sense to consider interdisciplinary facets in everything we learn or undertake.

    It's funny to write, but I almost wish I could do it (K-12) all over again. On second thought, no I don't! Maybe that's what grad. school is for...


What say you?